The National Rifle Association (NRA) has always been a fierce defender of gun rights, until now, according to some members. The shooting death of Philando Castile has started an internal fight within the organization, with many saying the NRA has a double standard for African American gun owners.
According to Philando Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, police pulled the couple over for a broken tail-light. A police officer asked for a driver’s license and car registration and Castile informed the officer that he did have a legally-owned firearm in the car. When the officer heard this, he told Castile not to move. Philando Castile raised his hands again and the cop opened fire.
The organization did finally release a statement on its Facebook, although it has not silenced critics.
“As the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization, the NRA proudly supports the right of law-abiding Americans to carry firearms for defense of themselves and others regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
Media outlets are now calling the organization hypocritical.
The NRA is also facing an avalanche of complaints on social media, many are members wondering why they’re paying dues to a civil rights organization that does not appear to be evenly defending civil rights.
The NRA finds itself with an internal split. It is a gun rights organization, but it also adamantly defends the police. Many of its 5 million predominantly white and conservative members are police officers, according to the Guardian. The NRA even hosts a “police shooting championship” and has a division specialized in training police instructors.
When a lone sniper shot five police officers dead in Dallas, Texas the NRA almost immediately released a statement mourning the lives lost.
There was also the case of Anton Sterling, an African-American man who was also killed police and had a firearm, although it’s slightly more complicated for gun-rights proponents. Whereas Castile had no criminal record that would have barred him from ownership, Sterling was a felon meaning that his gun was probably illegal. Still, video evidence and eye-witness accounts claim Sterling never reached for his gun, which he owned for self-defense – a right belonging to all Americans according to the NRA.
An Atlantic report goes in-depth on the issue of gun-rights for African-Americans, showing that there has always been a double standard stretching back to the reconstruction era, when Harper’s reported that the Ku Klux Klan “seized every gun and pistol found in the hands of the (so called) freedmen.”
In the 1960s, gun rights were a priority for Black Panther members in California. The group’s members would walk the streets of Oakland legally carrying an array of firearms as protection from alleged threats from white people, particularly police officers.
When the California state government moved to restrict open-carry laws, the Panthers came out in force to protest, but ultimately failed in preventing stricter gun control.
As the Atlantic explains, “The gun-control laws of the late 1960s, designed to restrict the use of guns by urban black leftist radicals, fueled the rise of the present-day gun-rights movement—one that, in an ironic reversal, is predominantly white, rural, and politically conservative.”
Cases like the Philando Castile shooting will put the NRA’s dedication to civil rights to the test and open up new questions about what the second amendment really means for African Americans.
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